It's been a long time since The Leonardo has been discussed at a Salt Lake City Council meeting without the project's funding woes dominating the conversation.

Too long, says executive director Mary Tull.

"We've been up to our ears in asbestos removal, seismic requirements, funding models, systems upgrades," Tull told the City Council last week. "It's easy to lose sight of the real reason this whole thing started in the first place."

Tull attempted to "move away from the details" during a council work session Tuesday, wanting to give City Council members an overview of plans for the interactive arts and science museum, and specifically, its mission, exhibits and programs. The council was shown a short video containing images of hands-on learning, dancing and artwork, as well as the playing of music.

For the most part, Tull got her wish: Cost concerns came up only briefly in relation to the failed $192 million public safety bond. The lack of funding for police and fire facilities makes it unlikely the city can put any more money toward The Leonardo.

"I'm not trying to pick on (The Leonardo)," Councilman Carlton Christensen said, "but we now have this dilemma that we really need to resolve. I'm not optimistic that we can do a lot of extras until we resolve this issue."

Salt Lake City voters in 2003 approved a $10.2 million general-obligation bond for construction of The Leonardo. The bond carried with it a requirement that the museum find a matching $10 million in outside donations for programming, which museum officials say has been secured.

The City Council earlier this year agreed to put another $1.5 million toward the project to help cover costs of converting the old city library on the corner of 500 South and 200 East into the museum.

But the project still faces a shortfall created by rising construction costs. Museum officials have said another $13 million is needed for the project.

"They may (need more money), but they'll have to get it from somewhere else," Christensen said.

Museum officials' presentation came two weeks before the City Council is expected to review an independent evaluation of The Leonardo's business plan. The council hired Los Angeles-based consulting firm Economics Research Associates to determine the viability of the project.

The Leonardo has been billed as a hands-on art, culture and science center for young people and adults, inspired by Leonardo da Vinci's multidisciplinary approach to exploring the world. The project will include about 30,000 square feet of exhibit space, a gift shop, cafe, children's story zone, performance theaters, multimedia studios, science labs, a darkroom, a reception area and conference rooms.

Museum officials expect the facility to open in early to mid-2009.

"The dream of opening this world-class science and technology center infused with arts for greater learning and vitality is really within our reach now," Tull said, citing the progress the museum has made since 2002.

The $10 million match was achieved within two years of voters' approval of the bond, she said. An audience research analysis by Leichliter and Associates produced "a very positive outcome," and The Leonardo has received strong support and participation of community leaders, Tull said.

The Leonardo, she said, will fill Salt Lake City's void of a science and technology asset and infuse that with art and culture to create a unique place of learning.

"The opening of The Leonardo will bring changes and opportunities to Salt Lake City," Tull said. "It will complete Library Square with a world-class attraction that draws residents and visitors alike."

As part of the Salt Lake Chamber's Downtown Rising plan, The Leonardo will be an anchor for cultural and economic renaissance in downtown Salt Lake, she said.

Tull said the museum plans to announce "major exhibits and programming" for 2008 in an effort to "start delivering on what has been promised to the community, as we wait for the building renovation to be completed."

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